Tradesmen, who hold the equivalent of a national craft certificate award, could be recognised as having the same status as students with a primary degree.
Currently, a process is underway to include existing and former awards in a new national qualifications framework.
The framework will have 10 levels, from the most basic at level one to a doctorate at the top level.
The policies and criteria for the making of awards are not yet complete. However, the expectation generally was the craft certificate would not be regarded higher than level six.
But under the criteria being applied by one of the qualifications awarding bodies, trade apprenticeship qualifications would come in under level seven the same as a college diploma.
Stan McHugh, chief executive of the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC), insisted yesterday the process was continuing. "We are working closely with previously awarding bodies to make sure the new framework comes into play with fairly determined and placed awards," he said.
He added there was "still some distance to go on completing the process".
Some academics may turn up their noses at the proposal, but a trade union official said yesterday its members are qualified to the highest standards.
Paddy O'Shaughnessy of the Building and Allied Trade Unions said: "I think certain people, including those in other trades, have a view about their own importance. At the end of the day, we would certainly like to see the same standards applied across the whole family of trades."
He said the framework was designed to allow holders of awards to move on to further study or training.
At any given time, he said, between 6,000 and 8,000 apprentices attend third-level colleges as part of their training.